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‘Dancing With the Stars’: Lance Bass surges into the lead

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Tonight’s semifinals of “Dancing With the Stars” brought a big surprise: namely, that Brooke Burke messed up one dance and got her lowest score of the season. The judges also had harsh commentary for Warren Sapp and Cody Linley, but the story of the night was Lance Bass’ two very strong performances. In addition, I was relieved to see that co-host Samantha Harris’ hair was back to being attractively styled after last week’s aberrations.

The couples performed the last of the traditional “DWTS” dances that they had not yet done, and then each got to choose one of the new dances introduced this season.

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Brooke and Derek were assigned the jive, and they chose the salsa. Being unfamiliar with the salsa, Derek found himself getting frustrated in rehearsals, and Brooke decided to turn up the entertainment factor since her competitors are so good at getting the audience going. During their jive, the camera blocking meant lots of focus on her facial expressions, and she did appear to be playing to the crowd. But it kind of seemed as if their timing was off at various stages during the routine, particularly the end, and the dance just generally wasn’t that sharp, though the crowd went wild. Len said the dance was a disaster. Bruno said that technique went “down the toilet” and that he was “totally shocked.” Carrie Ann pointed out that a blatant lift occurred and she found it disrespectful. Really, I must ask why the pros include lifts when they know it’s just going to upset Carrie Ann and, in turn, affect their scores. Do they just forget? Or is it some pathological urge? Brooke looked really shaken and on the verge of tears; I sympathized. In her interview with co-host Samantha Harris, Brooke agreed that she’d made lots of mistakes and said she just got flustered after an initial misstep. Samantha gazed at Brooke’s taut abdomen. Score: 21/30, their lowest ever.

After two weeks with Edyta, Cody was dancing again with the recently appendectomied Julianne. During the week, Cody surprised Julianne at the CMA Awards. Is it just me, or was Julianne looking skinnier than ever? Perhaps the appendix takes up more of your waistline than I’d suspected. Cody and Julianne were assigned the paso doble and chose the salsa. Their paso doble was performed in military attire, complete with stern ankle boots for Julianne. While in hold, it seemed to me that Julianne was leading Cody. Still, Cody did a good job standing up straight and looking serious/angry, which is de rigueur in the paso. Bruno called it “different,” but said the Spanish lines were nonexistent and the timing was off. Carrie Ann gave them a “10 for determination,” but said Cody’s hands were floppy. Len said it was “not good,” “stiff” and “wooden,” and “lacked dance quality.” Score: 22/30, which was still higher than Brooke and Derek’s, giving Julianne the upper hand in the Hough sibling rivalry.

Both Warren and Lance were assigned the mambo and elected to do the jitterbug. The West Coast swing and hustle got no love. Warren and Kym had to squeeze in rehearsals between Warren’s various jobs commenting on football; it all looked rather hectic indeed. And perhaps it’s that hectic schedule that keeps Kym in such great shape: at this point, she’s really ripped. I mean, she’s always looked good, but her abs were amazing tonight. During their mambo, Warren was serious and sharp, and the choreography had some cute narrative elements to it. But while Carrie Ann said that Warren knows how to bring the house down, he needed to ‘up the game’ by bringing more content to the dance. Len observed that Warren performs but doesn’t “mess around with technique.” Bruno pointed out that Warren’s “super-sized sense of fun” makes people overlook his flat footwork. Score: 24/30.

Lance’s grandfather visited Lance and Lacey in rehearsals, since Lance associated the jitterbug with World War II. At least I think that’s why. Their mambo was crisp and fun, though Lance had not entirely corrected the pigeon-toed tendencies the judges picked on last week. Lacey’s dress had what appeared to be a tropical bird’s tail attached to it. These two always do a very good job performing for the crowd, and their mambo in particular was confident, sassy and fun. Len –- who has hardly been a fan of theirs this season –- called it their best dance yet. Bruno said that at last this was “semifinal quality.” Carrie Ann called it a “showstopper” and by far the best dance of the first round of the semifinals. Score: 28/30, including their first 10 of the season.

And it was on to round two! Could the laggards recover? Would Lance and Lacey falter? Well, Len was on hand this week to train them in his master class. Len’s first task was to correct Lance’s pigeon toes. Next, he worked with Cody on his hip action. With Brooke, he focused on straightening her legs rather than hyperflexing them, which is not something most of us have to worry about. And at his visit with Warren, he concentrated, as you would expect, on Warren’s footwork. Throughout all of these, Len did display a good teacher’s knack for articulating a solution in a way that seemed illuminating to each of his students. But would these lessons stick? The first round suggested that they did not.

First, we saw pros dance the salsa and the jitterbug so that we’d know what to expect. I would describe the salsa as fluid, spinny and swivelly. Really, the pros’ limbs seemed at times gelatinous. Up first were Brooke and Derek, whose hips were indeed loose and whose movements were well synchronized and sharp. The dance ended with a very dramatic swing, with Brooke arching over the floor. Bruno exclaimed that “Brooke is back!” Carrie Ann cited the lifts but said they were very difficult and fitting, and she lauded Brooke for coming back strong. Len said that if she makes it to the finals, she should work to her strength -– namely, her technique -– and not worry what others are doing. Score: 28/30, for a total of 49/60.

Also salsa-ing were Cody and Julianne, who began their dance on opposite sides of the dramatic split staircase. The middle of the salsa featured a sequence of four spins into dips, which were nicely executed by Julianne. Carrie Ann said it was “a lot of fun,” but Cody’s musicality was off. Len, on the other hand, liked the musicality and rhythm. Bruno spouted off a series of odd comments that seemed to boil down to the idea that the dance still wasn’t quite as sharp as one might want. Score: 24/30, for a total of 46/60.

Next, some pros danced the jitterbug to show us how it’s done. The way it’s done is really, really hyperactively. My mind doesn’t work as fast as they danced, so it was hard to process. A jitterbug aerobics class would probably be a useful resource if you were a celebrity trying to get into shape very quickly before the Oscars and didn’t mind risking cardiac arrest.

Up first with the jitterbug were Warren and Kym. The dance started with Warren dealing cards onto the judges’ desk; Kym was dressed as a casino waitress. Perhaps going right after the pros wasn’t their best stroke of luck –- their jitterbug seemed positively slow-mo by comparison. The crowd, of course, loved it, as they do all of Warren’s dances. Len said that Warren is a joy to watch. Bruno, though, thought that Len’s master class didn’t work, that the footwork was still off. Carrie Ann, however, loved the jitterbug, except for the dangerous lifts. Score: 25/30, for a total of 49/60.

Lance and Lacey, attired in sailor costumes, danced a faster, more gymnastic jitterbug. Early in the dance, Lacey’s shoe came off, and then Lance ditched a shoe as well. It was an excellent improvisation, one that showed true comfort on the stage. Bruno said it was brilliant and reminiscent of “On the Town.” Carrie Ann agreed and said that “magic happened on the dance floor.” Len said Lance had danced two fabulous dances. Score: 29/30, for 57/60 and the clear lead.

And for scheduling purposes, be advised that Tuesday’s results show is two hours long, although it sounded as if the first hour will contain some clips. But the Ballroom Kids will be dancing live for your votes during the first hour, so we should all tune in for that, since kids are our future, etc. Next week’s results show will also be two hours long, so be sure to factor that into your Thanksgiving travel plans.

So, fans, which of our stars will not make it to next week’s finals? It would seem that Lance is the only one who’s safe this week. Thoughts?

-- Sarah Rogers


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